Monday, August 31, 2009

Toronto Fan Expo '09

Welcome fellow nerds, to the 2009 Toronto Fan Expo, held every year downtown at the humongous Toronto Convention Centre. This was actually my first visit to this annual event, so I wasn't sure of what to expect. I was there on Saturday, likely the busiest day of the three, and found myself at the end of a huge, long lineup of fans that snaked around haphazardly all over the ground floor lobby. For about the first hour it wasn't even moving, and I was debating whether or not to stick around. Finally, they opened up the floodgates and after a total of about 90 minutes I was finally in the main room. I'm glad I didn't leave after all, as it turned out to be a lot of fun.

My main reason for going to Fan Expo was due to the scheduled appearance of a couple of the many guest celebrities who would be signing autographs (albeit for a fee.) I'd drawn up a couple caricatures beforehand, in order to get them signed.

Here's the guy I most wanted to meet: veteran actor, Beau Bridges. I've always liked both Beau and his brother, Jeff, but I think Beau has been largely underrated throughout most of his career. However, in recent years I think he's matured from the younger leading man into a very likable character actor, lately appearing in my favourite current TV series, My Name is Earl, as Earl's long-suffering dad, Carl Hickey. I'd inked up two original drawings and presented him with one framed and had him sign the other one for my personal collection of celebrity autographed caricatures.

Likewise, I had British 60s/70s horror film icon, Barbara Steele sign an additional copy of the caricature that I'd presented to her. Barbara had a very unusual sort of beauty with her huge eyes and prominent forehead, somewhat similar to today's Christina Ricci or Helena Bonham-Carter. She's mostly known for her films, Black Sunday and The Pit and the Pendulum, the latter co-starring with Vincent Price.

Illustrators were in great abundance at Fan Expo. Here's my friend, Paul Rivoche with his daughter Charlotte. Paul is a much sought after animation background designer, as well as a longtime comics artist.

This is local Toronto sculptor, Claudio Setti, whose specialty is creating figures based on sci-fi, fantasy and gaming characters. Be sure to visit Claudio's blog to see more of his wonderful work.

Veteran Playboy cartoonist, Doug Sneyd was there promoting a couple of books that show the process of developing his beautiful cartoons.

Looks like Doug has found some new inspiration for future cartoons!

It was a real pleasure to finally meet Jason Seiler, a fellow caricaturist whom I've crossed paths with online at the ISCA forums, and who also teaches through Bobby Chiu's very successful Schoolism online program.

Likewise, it was great to meet Stephen Silver, who has been a major character designer for animation, most notably for Kim Possible and Clerks, as well as also teaching through Schoolism.

Sheridan College Animation was well represented at the event. Here's my friend and teaching colleague, Dave Quesnelle, attending with his family.

Here's a group of my students from this past year, several hamming it up in costume.

Who ya' gonna call? Sheridan students, Nick Hendriks and Megan Kearney of course! (Be careful not to cross those streams, guys!)

X-Men's Wolverine (Derek Spencer) poses dramatically with Rogue (Vanessa Stefaniuk).

And then there are all of the folks who just love to dress up and pose for their adoring public. Here's a cute group of gals who were only too happy to keep those cameras clicking away.

A close-up on lovely Poison Ivy, who makes a very strong case for "Going Green".

This was one of the only photos that I didn't have to correct for "Red Eye"!

Needless to say, this painted lady had many a shutterbug gathered around her. The way I figure it, what she spent on body paint was more than offset by what she saved on spending for clothes.

Some cute Trekkie Chikkies...

...and still more Enterprising young ladies! Live long and prosper!

See you all again at Fan Expo 2010!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Ted Kennedy

I was very sorry to hear today that Ted Kennedy passed away. Although we all knew it was just a matter of time since he'd been diagnosed with the brain tumor, it's still tragic to see such a legendary political figure and statesman leave us. I was watching the coverage on CBC Newsworld earlier today and it was good to see that so many here in Canada admired him as much as his fellow Americans did. Former NDP Party leader, Ed Broadbent shared his tales of consulting with Ted years ago on possible ways that the U.S health care could be reformed, borrowing some aspects (not all) from our Canadian system. It's really too bad that President Obama will not be able to benefit from having such a champion of universal medical care as was Ted Kennedy. And of course, with his passing, so ends the era of those three legendary brothers from Massachusetts, and the closest thing to American royalty with that period we romantically dubbed "Camelot".

I'll add this caricature sketch I did recently of another prominent American figure, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, as tomorrow, Aug. 27th will mark his 101st birthday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here's To "The Boys"!

This past weekend I went to see the new documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. It's all about the lives of Robert and Richard Sherman (aka Bob and Dick), and their long career as film music composers, much of that time spent under contract with the Disney Studio. The shocking revelation in this film though, is that, despite their longtime collaboration on beloved film music, the two brothers did not get along or socialize outside of their office. Sadly, this also meant that they kept their families away from each other for decades, not really knowing much about their respective in-laws, uncles, aunts and cousins.

Fortunately, however, that particular aspect has come to an end since cousins Jeff (son of Bob) and Greg (son of Dick) met in 2002 at the premiere of the stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They have now collaborated on producing this documentary that pulls back the curtain on the lives and career of their fathers, not shying away from the animosity that still exists between them, yet never really speculating on how it all started in the first place. In covering their professional careers, they illustrate it with song/film clips from the movies they composed for, as well as interviewing various friends, colleagues, and such luminary stars as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins. The brothers themselves were interviewed separately for this doc, only appearing together in stock footage from their Disney years, Oscar ceremony, etc.

Like I said, the cousins do not try to explain the reason behind their fathers' estrangement, yet there are some clues that may suggest what went on to cause it. Most notable I thought was the wartime experience of Bob Sherman in World War II, which I think must have profoundly damaged him, not only from the bullets he took in his knee that left him with a limp, but moreso from the atrocities he witnessed, particularly the corpses he saw rotting in a concentration camp after it had been liberated. I suspect that it was all of this emotional trauma that caused him to retreat more and more into his own little world, eventually leading to him moving in recent years to London to paint and write.

If I recall correctly, I think it was Imagineer Bruce Gordon* who at one point in the documentary describes the brothers as being like Lennon and McCartney. He says that Dick was more like the sunny and ebullient Paul, while Bob was more like the brooding but artistic John. That seems like a very accurate impression based on how they come across in the film. In fact, it seemed that whenever Bob offered up his thoughts on Dick, it was usually in the form of petty put-downs, whereas Dick was more likely to speak of Bob with feelings of hero worship for his older brother. Though at the outset of the film, they both blame the other one for having "pulled away", I suspect that Bob was indeed the one to initially distance himself from Dick, and not vice versa.

Back in 1994, The National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC), an organization for Disney enthusiasts, though not officially sanctioned by Disney, asked me if I could do a caricature of the Shermans that they could print up as a "fan card" to give out to all the attendees at their convention that year. Bob and Dick were to be special guest speakers at the NFFC Con and the original art would be presented to them there, while fans could have them autograph the printed cards. In return for volunteering my art, I did ask that they have Bob and Dick sign a card for me too, as I wasn't going to be able to attend the event held in California. As you can see, they complied, and the art you see at the top of this post is that fan card. Incidentally, the signatures on the right were pre-printed, but they signed it personally to me on the left. What I find interesting in retrospect of having now seen this documentary, is that even their autographs are rather telling. Bob has signed it more reservedly, while Dick has been more colourful in his greeting. Had I known back then that they did not get along, I probably would have drawn them as separate caricatures, so they could frame them up individually. I wonder where the original art ended up?

Anyway, despite their strange separate lives, I will continue to love and enjoy their wonderful legacy of Disney music, including such favourite scores as Mary Poppins and my beloved The Jungle Book. Thank you, Bob and Dick!

* Tragically, Bruce Gordon , talented Imagineer and well loved Disneyland historian died after the making of this film, at age 56.

The Boys is currently only playing locally at the Dundas AMC theatre in Toronto. Please go and support this film!!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mainstream Media

No pictures today - just the following food for thought. Read the article first, then I'll offer up my thoughts below:

Bloggers hitch wagons to the traditional media

August 23, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to blogosphere dominance of the global conversation. Many of the most prominent bloggers have hitched their wagons to the traditional mainstream media (MSM). Yes, the same MSM that bloggers, or Internet diarists, ceaselessly ridiculed as slaves to conventional wisdom.

If the struggle to "monetize" online readers is the chief priority of MSM proprietors from Rupert Murdoch to the Sulzberger family of The New York Times, venerable newspapers and TV networks are at least deriving some revenue from their online products, despite the current, unprecedented advertising drought.

Yet even the best-read bloggers, the ones who break news and whose analysis is of must-read value to specialized audiences, are in far more dire financial straits. And they are coming in from the cold.

There was always a tendency for bloggers to save their best stuff for the MSM.

For instance, when it came time for a Rush Limbaugh takedown, David Frum penned a cover story last March for Newsweek. But now, even the pretence of independence is going by the wayside. Andrew Sullivan has moved his one-man blog to The Atlantic. Fellow former independent bloggers Andrew Coyne and Eric Alterman (Altercation) now blog for Maclean's and The Nation, respectively.

It works the other way, of course. The Toronto Star is in the company of scores of MSM outlets, broadcast and print, in "repurposing" traditional journalists into bloggers. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman completes the points he makes in his New York Times columns on his "The Conscience of a Liberal" blog for that paper.

It turns out that traditional media remain unrivalled in audience reach. More than anything, bloggers and other "opinionators" want a vast audience. But blogs reach their saturation point quickly, a big audience being 2,000 or so. There is little "stumble upon" factor in blogs – strangers who come across a website by accident and become fans. You won't stumble across the website of prolific blogger Mark Steyn at the dentist's office, as you will Chatelaine. Opinionators want to change the world, and only a tiny fraction of it is tuned in.

Peggy Noonan's weekly four minutes of face time on Meet the Press – must-watching for official Washington – and each of her weekly columns in the dead-tree Wall Street Journal make more of an impression than a thousand blog posts.

In order to drive up audience numbers, the U.S. political website Talking Points Memo, the first online journal to win a prestigious Peabody Award for investigative journalism, and Frum's recently launched newmajority website, have adopted the "aggregator" model of Huffington Post, Newser and Tina Brown's newish Daily Beast.

Aggregator sites offer congeries of mini-blogs, rewritten New York Times and Us Weekly articles, celebrity gossip and YouTube videos. As online variety shows, they do enjoy better ratings. But the voices of the erstwhile independent bloggers who have bunked in with the aggregators has been greatly diluted.

If that new online business model seems familiar, it is. It's the same role played by newspapers, the pioneer aggregators. (Unless you count all the contributors to the Bible.)

We are witnessing the triumph of the allegedly extinction-bound MSM over their cyberspace detractors. The economic reality is that the 224-year old Times of London boasts vastly more "brand-name awareness," as marketers say, than the best-written, most imaginatively designed blog in the world. So do The Lancet, Paris Match and National Public Radio.

And that's separate from the newspapers' and TV news channels' vaunted advantage in newsgathering, about which we so often hear from those making the case for "saving" our endangered traditional news media. The MSM win because of their continued, far larger financial resources, ubiquity of distribution, and decades-long familiarity and trust with audiences.

So if it ever was a war – and some of the early bloggers called it that– the MSM have won it. Why?

Because bloggers who piggyback on The Economist, Reuters, The Atlantic, The Nation, CBS News or the Toronto Star have to accommodate themselves to the standards and practices of those MSM outlets, which the original bloggers found overly restrictive.

There always will be independent bloggers content with an audience of 20, or 200, or 2,000 for their arcane field of inquiry. That's why there are an estimated 200 million-plus blogs.

But there will always be bloggers who want to reach a bigger audience, which is why the lifespan of the average blog is two to three months.

So, long live the best blogs in their evolution into appendages of the mainstream media.

Okay, so even though I am a blogger, I have to say quite ecstatically, HOORAY FOR MAINSTREAM MEDIA!! Yes, I'm still very much of the 20th Century mindset on this subject, as I wholeheartedly believe in "old" media such as TV and print journalism (as well as just general print publishing) being a superior way to communicate to the masses when utilized properly. For the record, my own blog is simply this ol' curmudgeon's way of waxing nostalgic over the past and griping about what I perceive to be this "Age of Mediocrity" that we now live in. Apart from that, The Cartoon Cave and its author do not pretend to be anything of great journalistic importance.

On another point - Many people have been after me to put together a printed collection of my celebrity caricatures, suggesting I self publish and sell my wares at comics shows, etc. While I would very much love to have a collection of my art published, I'd still far rather go through the more traditional route of getting an established book publisher interested in doing so. Why? Well, quite frankly, after having had a home computer now for just over 10 years, I still consider myself a rather hopeless novice. I really don't know how to design and publish a book myself, as I'm just not savvy to how it's all done. Even if I could figure it all out, then there's the expense of having a realistic number of copies printed up, or, alternately, going with some print-on-demand service like Cafe Press for example.

The big problem with the former approach is that I then have to worry about how to distribute my wares to whatever audience may be interested. Frankly, I'm just not keen on the idea of trying to sell books out of the trunk of my car! I suspect I'd never be able to make a profit on such a venture. The latter approach of setting up a print-on-demand service through Cafe Press or some other such online printing company doesn't appeal to me either. Sure, there'd be no physical inventory stacked up in my basement to worry about, but I also am painfully aware that the only people who get rich from Cafe Press are the bigwigs at Cafe Press itself. They take a huge chunk of the sales and only start paying anything when a certain dollar amount of sales are made - nothing until then.

No, I'm still hoping to someday have a collection of my caricatures published traditionally, preferably through some well established publisher of art-related books who would recognize the merit in such a venture. If anybody out there has any connections with potentially interested parties, please send them the links to my blog and website. If a publisher can make me some money, I'm more than happy to make them money too. That's the way it should be, and that's why I still appreciate and respect mainstream media!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jill St. John!

Yes, this gorgeous redhead is celebrating her birthday today, and she's a star that I've long wanted to draw. For me, Jill St. John is one of several actresses that I personally consider very representative of the fun, breezy films of the 1960s that I love. It doesn't hurt that she costarred with Frank Sinatra in a couple of them: Come Blow Your Horn and Tony Rome, the latter of which I consider one of Sinatra's more satisfying films, with Frank getting to play a jaded private detective.

I watched Tony Rome again the other night, with the idea initially of basing my caricature of Jill on her role in the film as the sultry divorcee trying to seduce detective Rome, but having to wait patiently as he keeps on heading out the door to solve his case. I love the whole look of this film, as it feels like all of the characters just stepped out of a pulp crime paperback cover painted by Robert McGinnis. Ultimately, though, I turned to another film that probably has Jill St. John in her most famous role, that of Tiffany Case in the James Bond entry, Diamonds Are Forever.

This was the Bond film that Sean Connery was lured back to for one last go at it in 1971. He'd famously already quit the role after appearing in You Only Live Twice, allowing George Lazenby to play 007 in what turned out to be his one outing in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Connery agreed to come back once more after the studio met his (then) sky high salary demands. Anyway, Diamonds Are Forever may be the Bond film that I've seen most often, and it's because I really like his leading lady, Jill St. John. With her high cheekbones, sultry purr of a voice, and that mop of rich red hair piled up high, I just think Jill is pretty hot stuff! She looks particularly striking in the fashionable bikini getup that she appears in during the exciting climax of the film.

A few years ago, there was a documentary called Bond Girls Are Forever, written and hosted by Maryam d'Abo, a former Bond Girl herself. It was interesting to see the reactions of the various actresses who had appeared in the films throughout the series' long history, when asked how they felt about being a "Bond Girl". Some of the younger actresses from the more recent entries seemed to have mixed feelings, as if they weren't sure whether it helped their careers or not and whether portraying a Bond Girl was giving into sexism. But it seemed to me that both Ursula Andress and Jill St. John had the healthiest attitudes about their roles, seeing their characters as harmless fun that have entertained Bond film fans, both male and female, for many years. Anyway, I sure am grateful for Jill St. John's role as jewel smuggler, Tiffany Case, and I wish her the very best on this, her special day!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Garrison Keillor!

Here's a guy I've always liked: American humorist and Public Radio personality, Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion.

Back in the early 90s when I was living down in Florida, listening to Garrison's radio show every Saturday evening was a real treat. Interestingly, my introduction to Garrison Keillor was after he'd retired the original A Prairie Home Companion and had replaced it with The American Radio Company of the Air, having relocated from Minnesota for several years to broadcast from New York City. Still, the format remained much the same, though there were several new cast members in addition to his regulars like sound effects guy, Tom Keith. One of the new cast was the incredibly talented Ivy Austin, who could do all manner of comic characters as well as being a brilliant singer. Garrison took his show back to Minnesota in 1993 and rechristened it A Prairie Home Companion, and has made it a Public Radio institution in the many years it's been running.

I used to love to sit out in my back enclosed porch during my years in Florida, a cup of coffee in hand, and listen to Garrison and crew create their always witty and entertaining theatre of the mind, as the sky turned pink and gold with the Florida setting sun. In the years I've been back living in Canada, however, I don't get to hear the show too often, as I can't usually pick up the local PBS radio station from Buffalo NY very clearly at home. Oddly enough, though, it comes through nice and clear on my car stereo, so there have been times where I just keep on driving around aimlessly so as to not miss any of Garrison's closing 20 minute monologue on the residents of Lake Wobegon. His soft midwestern voice can be absolutely mesmerizing as he spins his latest tales.

I've discovered that there is a wealth of excerpts from the radio shows captured on video, made available by Public Radio on YouTube. Here's the link to check them out.

Here's a short, but close-up view of Garrison Keillor, as he responds to a question concerning writing humour:

Here's a sound only clip of Garrison as he sensibly endorses the then future President of the United States. Although Garrison extolls the virtues of the simple country life of the American midwest, largely the domain of Republicans, make no doubt about it that he's a liberal Democrat. Good on ya', Garrison! :)